Imagine Buying 100 Million Pennies
"The envelope has two purposes and two purposes only," wrote Herschell Gordon Lewis. "One: to get itself opened; Two: to keep the contents from spilling into the street."
I received an oversize (5-1/2" x 11-1/") envelope with a shiny 2015 Jefferson nickel showing through the window.
How can you not open it?
This is real U.S. Treasury cash money!
For starters, the greed and guilt factor are at work.
This nickel mailing is the classic hot potato.
Hot Potato Advertising
"Use an 'action device' or 'hot potato.' This technique was developed and refined by Frank Herbert of Reader's Digest. Frank didn't just offer you a half-price subscription, he mailed you a $1 discount certificate which you could use to secure a subscription for half-price. If you used it, it was worth a dollar to you. If you threw it away, in effect, you had lost a dollar. It was a 'hot potato' you had to do something with, one way or the other. The difference between a physical, tangible valuable object and a vaguely worded offer was all-important." —Walter Weintz, former Reader's Digest circulation director
Walter Weintz was an early boss and mentor of mine. He made his bones on hot potato advertising.
"In the beginning was the penny. And Walter Weintz saw that the penny was good and he said, hey, let's put a penny or two on all Reader's Digest mailings. And so it came to pass, and all over America people received lucky pennies ('Here's your change—in advance!') from the kindly folks in Pleasantville.
"And then came the 'advanced' token, and knocked the penny on its ear. And Walter Weintz saw that that was pretty good, too, and he said, by jingo, we may be on to something here! And so it, too, came to pass. And for the next several years a few million fortunate Americans received plastic savings tokens, 'Yes' tokens, 'Yes' and 'No' tokens, cardboard book tokens of all sizes, shapes, colors and materials than even Walter Weintz would care to shake a stick at. And Walter shook a stick at more than a few.
"And then came the Reader's Digest Sweepstakes and knocked the token on its ear—at least in Pleasantville.
"But the token showed incredible stamina, and outside the ivy-covered walls at Pleasantville, the 'age of the token' really hit its stride. And proved its viability as a marketing tool in situations far removed from the Digest.
"Sometimes marketers "disguised" tokens—as a 'Credit Card' for TV Guide and an 'RSVP Card' for Better Homes and Gardens in the early sixties. But they were still action devices. Still tokens. Some personalized, some numbered, some not." —Tony Arau, Copywriter, WHO'S MAILING WHAT! July 1985
The Incredible Story of the Reader's Digest Penny Mailings
"As the circulation director of the Digest in the 1950's, [Walter] Weintz mailed a record 100 million pennies as part of a subscription campaign, quoting a Persian poet, 'If thou hast two pennies, spend one for bread.' He added. 'Keep one penny for bread. Or for luck. Send back the other penny as a down payment on a subscription to the Reader's Digest—a penny to seal the bargain!'
"The pennies were sent from the United States Mint in Denver in open flatbed trucks to a Long Island warehouse, the floor of which collapsed under the weight.
"That mailing, along with other direct marketing campaigns that Mr. Weintz conceived, was credited in large part for raising the magazine's circulation, which had fallen by 25 percent to 4.5 million in 1948, when Mr. Weintz was hired. When he left in 1959 to open his own direct marketing agency in Norwalk, monthly circulation exceeded 12 million." —Edwin McDowell, The New York Times obituary, December 25, 1996
"May I Order 100 Million Pennies?"
When Walt Weintz asked to buy 100 million pennies from the Federal Government the Treasury Department turned him down cold. Such an order would roundly bollix up the distribution system and very likely cause shortages.